Iggy Pop defines “punk rock” during notorious interview and embodies its every ethos
During Iggy Pop’s long and varied career the singer has had many notorious moments. Whether it’s challenging the local biker gang to a fight on stage, slicing his chest open with broken glass while singing, or just using his vitriolic vocabulary to eviscerate any interviewer in his path—Iggy Pop is the Godfather of Punk.
In a shining example of the latter, Pop arrives at the Toronto studio of CBC to speak with Peter Gzowski on 90 Minutes Live and delivers a powerful piece of rhetoric on the term “punk rock” and in doing so embodies the genre’s entire ethos.
Iggy Pop and David Bowie were touring across North America when the opportunity to visit the renowned show popped up. The duo was set to perform at Toronto’s Seneca Field House a few days later and had been scheduled to give the audience in the studio a preview of the event. Sadly, this didn’t come to fruition but it did allow Iggy Pop to sit down with Gzowski and speak as candidly as ever.
With The Stooges, Iggy Pop had become a driving force of the New York scene which would eventually bear the fruits of punk’s earliest beginnings. With many citing acts such as The Stooges, The Dead Boys, and the New York Dolls as the foundations of the genre, Pop’s impression on punk rock is undeniable.
In 1977, the world was alight with the term “punk” and what started out as a derogatory word used by the press was now being touted by every TV personality going in an attempt to increase controversy and viewership. Gzowski was no different and begins with his leading question “Tell me about ‘punk rock’…” Pop doesn’t miss a beat and picks up instantly, “Well, I’ll tell you about ‘punk rock’,” he fires back.
“Punk rock is a word used by dilettantes,” he pauses as the audience clearly not used to the word snigger, “…and heartless manipulators, about music that takes up the energies, and the bodies, and the hearts and the souls and the time and the minds, of young men, who give what they have to it, and give everything they have to it.”
“And it’s a — it’s a term that’s based on contempt; it’s a term that’s based on fashion, style, elitism, satanism, and, everything that’s rotten about rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t know Johnny Rotten, but I’m sure, I’m sure he puts as much blood and sweat into what he does as Sigmund Freud did.”
The singer, clearly agitated by the derision with which he is met on a regular basis, defines his art, “What sounds to you like a big load of trashy old noise is, in fact, the brilliant music of a genius. Myself.”
“And that music is so powerful, that it’s quite beyond my control. And, ah when I’m in the grips of it, I don’t feel pleasure and I don’t feel pain, either physically or emotionally. Do you understand what I’m talking about?” Pop remarks to rapturous applause. He confronts them, head on, without fear or reproach.
He then points the finger back at Gzowski, “Have you ever, have you ever felt like that? When you just, when you just, you couldn’t feel anything, and you didn’t want to either. You know, like that? Do you understand what I’m saying, sir?”
By way of cementing his place in the pantheon of punk, among the very elite, Pop offers a reflective moment to finish the otherwise frenetic interview. “This is serious business to me, do you understand? It’s very serious. I feel very strongly about what I do. And it’s not all that good. I’m not that great, you know, really. … I’ve worked very hard for a very long time to try and make something that’s beautiful enough so that I can enjoy it and so other people can enjoy it,” he says. “And I will continue working at it because I haven’t nearly achieved it yet.”
Back in 1977, when the cameras bulbs were all flashing with the filth and fury of punk’s icons like The Clash, the Sex Pistols, Ramones and more, Iggy Pop was simply continuing to be himself, and in the process, the most punk of all.